Saturday, May 30, 2020

E. Sniffen's 1883 219-221 Grand Street

Until 1767 the wide drive that ran east-west through the country estate of James de Lancey Jr. was called the Road to Crown Point.  That year de Lancey renamed it Grand Street.  Following the Revolutionary War and his banishment as a Loyalist, de Lancey’s property was confiscated and the building lots were auctioned.  By the 1810's and ‘20's, Grand Street saw the rise of brick-faced homes, including No. 221, home to John Lovett in 1823.

The house, described as a "three story brick front house" was the home and office of dentist Thomas Paine in the 1840's.  By 1874 the ground floor had been converted for business and housed a variety of shops over the next decade, including Henry Birn's crockery and glass store, J. McGivern's tea shop, and finally J. F. Manken's saloon.  Manken had just paid his $75 fee for his excise (or liquor) license in July 1883 when he received bad news.

Simultaneously Daniel D. Brickenhoff had purchased the property.  He was the principal in the construction firm D. Brickhoff & Co.  On July 27, 1883 his architect, E. Sniffen, filed plans for a "five-story brick store" on the site of the old house at a cost $22,000, or just under $580,000 today.

Although Sniffen produced several tenement buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, little is known about him.  For Brickenhoff he produced an especially handsome blend of Italianate and neo-Grec styles.  The cast iron storefront had a chamfered entrance behind a free-standing cast iron column.   
The upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in sandstone.  Quoins ran up the sides while the openings sat on scalloped sills and wore robust lintels with incised designs.   The projecting chimney backs at the fourth and fifth floors sat upon chunky carved supports.  They took the form of heavy pilasters at the fourth floor and paired, engaged Corinthian columns at the fifth.  The handsome metal cornice was distinguished by a triangular pediment.

The building was only 23 feet deep along Elizabeth Street.  That all changed a year later when Brickenhoff brought E. Sniffen back to essentially double its size.  On February 16, 1884 The American Architect & Building News reported that he had filed plans for an extension along Elizabeth Street to cost $25,000--more than the original building.  The resulting addition, four bays side, was architecturally seamless.

The store was home to one of several W. L. Douglas shoe stores in the city.  William Lewis Douglas had founded the firm in 1876 and reinvented how the shoe industry worked.  Rather than wholesale the shoes he manufactured, he opened his own retail shops.  Taking a page from P. T. Barnum's book, he stamped his image on the leather soles, making his shoes easily recognized.  By the turn of the century W. L. Douglas was the largest shoe maker in the world.

The $3 cost of this shoe would equal $85 today.  The Sun, December 5, 1886 (copyright expired)
The building's residents were working class--at least those who worked.  One who found other means of making a living was 34-year old August Palmer, who was living here in September 1887 when he was once again arrested.

He and three cohorts, August Bergman, alias 'Dutch Gus;' Henry Frey, alias 'Little Henry;' and Frank Clark set their plan to rob the store of Michael Borchardt on Canal Street into motion on the evening of September 9.  They hid in a loft directly above the store and after hours packed up silverware and silk goods valued at $180,000 in today's money.  The following morning they returned, dressed as janitors.  An express wagon had been hired to transport the neatly-packaged heist to the house of merchant Joseph Snow on East 76th Street.  (Police later said Snow "has been closely watched for a number of years, but has so far managed to keep out of prison.")

Their scheme fell apart because of a vigilant watchman who was suspicious of the Saturday morning activity and took down the license number of the wagon.   After following the trail to the destination supplied by the driver, the police learned from a woman living nearby that she had seen four men carrying bolts of silk into the house.

On September 15 The Evening Post entitled a front page article "A Good Haul" and reported on the arrest of the thieves along with Joseph Snow.  "The four burglars have spent most of their lives in prison," it said.  August Palmer, who had already spent three terms in State Prison, would not be returning to his Grand Street apartment.

The author of a situation-wanted ad in February 1888 was typical of the residents in the building.  "Bartender's Position Wanted by a single young man; five years' best recommendations from last employer.  Address BARTENDER 221 Grand st."  

As the century drew to a close tenants included Joseph McManus, who volunteered with the 108th Regiment in 1898 following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.  Vincent Cristalli lived here at the same time.  As an attendance officer with the New York Public Schools, his lurking presence on the streets was a constant threat to hooky-playing schoolboys.

In the first years of the 20th century John McBride worked as a "laborer" for the Department of Docks.  He earned 31.25¢ per hour in 1905, or about $9.50 an hour today.  At the time Vincenzo Benincasa was trying hard to elevate himself from his humble immigrant beginnings.  That year he was enrolled as a junior at Columbia University's College of Pharmacy.

The names of McManus, McBride, Cristalli and Benincasa reflected the mixed Irish and Italian demographics of the neighborhood at the time.  There were those among those immigrant communities who took advantage of their own countrymen's naivete, however.  Among them was Dr. Salvatore Magnoni who lived and ran his private practice at No. 219-221 Grand Street.

On May 25, 1907 the New-York Tribune reported on an investigation into "irregularities" within the medical community which it said "may develop into trouble of considerable magnitude."  The article pointed out the case of "an Italian" who had paid exorbitant fees to Dr. Magnoni and to Bellevue Hospital.

"Dr. Salvatore Magnoni, of No. 219 Grand street, said the man had been under his treatment, and for a month's services he had charged him $50."  That initial fee would be equal to $1,400 today.  The New-York Tribune reported "As the case was an aggravated one, he said he told him to go to Bellvue."  The patient was charged another $50 for admission, and "agreed to pay $50 more for treatment."  Dr. Magnoni was called in on the case, and he again charged $50.  The immigrant patient's medical bill had now climbed to the equivalent of $5,610 today.

Dr. Magnoni was unapologetic.  "So far as I am concerned the proposition was one between patient and private physician, and I deem every act of mine proper."

The doctor's unscrupulous treatment of his neighbors finally went too far.  In 1913 he began receiving anonymous threatening letters.  And then on November 2 Louis Guadaza ran up to Patrolman Moffett and told him there was a suspicious looking cigar box in the hallway of No. 221 Grand Street.  "The patrolman found the infernal machine lying just outside the door to Dr. S. Magnoni's flat," reported the New-York Tribune.

A protruding fuse had burned to within half an inch of the box.  "Moffett grasped the sputtering thing and snuffed out the sparks.  When he opened the box he found four sticks of dynamite."  It was taken to the Bureau of Combustibles where it was deemed "of a particularly dangerous nature."

The chamfered entrance to the store was still evident in this tax photograph taken around 1941.  photo via NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
In 1917 the store was home to Alexander & Littlefield Company where housewives could buy the "Sovereign" vacuum cleaner.  At a time when few tenement buildings had electricity, the clever device did not need it.  "The 'Sovereign' Vacuum Cleaner is of the piston plunger type," explained the New-York Tribune on July 22.  "The pumping motion produces a suction, which draws the embedded dirt up through the nozzle and deposits it in a chamber inside the cylinder."  The labor-intensive device weighed six pounds and could be purchased for the equivalent of $70 in today's dollars.

The Carlino family lived in No. 221 in 1922 when 17-year old John Carlino got himself into serious trouble.  He and three friends, James Cusano, Anthony Masceto, and Jasper Scalofano decided to break into the olive oil and cheese store of Sabella Brothers around the corner on Elizabeth Street.  Cusano, who was 18-years old, led the gang and his plan was to saw through the iron bars of the cellar window to gain access.

Patrolman Michael Healy noticed the four youths loitering around the store and approached.  James Cusano assumed that cops could be bought and asked him "Will you stand for a little job?"  

"What kind?" asked Healy.

Cusano explained the plan.  "Sure, at your own risk," said the officer and he walked to the corner to stand lookout.  When out of eyesight he went to the police signal box and asked for reinforcements.  As the boys were herded into a police vehicle, one of the detectives could not hold back his astonishment at Cusano's impertinence: "Were you ever in a lunatic asylum or hit over the head?"

As the decades passed, the Grand Street neighborhood declined.  Already suffering neglect, No. 221 was devastated by a fire in March 1963.  The tenants of the twelve apartments went to the homes of friends and neighbors.  The New York Times reported "Five months later they were still homeless.  The building had no water, gas or electricity."

The tenants sued the landlord to force him to make repairs, but with no success.  It was seized by the city, which spent $39,350 on repairs.  But while the tenants now could return to their three- and four-room apartments, they faced a rent increase of up to 62 percent.  The lowest rent, which had been $25.30 a month, rose to $40.82 (or, in today's terms, from $211 to $314).

In 1970 the city auctioned the property with a minimum bid of $18,000.  It received a renovation in 2013 which resulted in offices on the second floor, three apartments each on upper floors.  E. Sniffen's handsome 1883 building once again attracts attention for the right reasons.

photographs by the author

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Calhoun, Robbins & Co. Building - 895-899 Broadway

Cousins Samuel Lord and George W. Taylor opened their first dry goods store in 1826 on Catherine Street.  By the early 1860's they had moved to Grand Street and Broadway, and in 1869 once again followed the northward movement of the shopping district.  Upscale stores like Tiffany & Co. and Arnold, Constable & Co. had relocated to the Union Square area that same year.

The partners leased property from the Goelet family at Nos. 895 and 899 Broadway and the abutting southwest corner plot of  Broadway and 20th Streets from the Badeau family.  They commissioned James H. Giles to design the new Lord & Taylor emporium.  A Brooklyn architect who was responsible for a few cast iron building in lower Manhattan as well as the earlier Gothic-style Christ Church in Williamsburg (where he even designed the organ cabinet), Giles went all-out for the new store.

His five-story extravaganza, costing half a million dollars (just under $10 million today), departed from conventional cast iron designs.  Rather than creating a facade pretending to be stone, his was unabashedly cast iron.  Architectural critics of the day praised the innovation; one of the few criticisms being the overall beige color rather than a polychromed paint scheme.  

Thousands of shoppers crowded into the new store on November 28, 1870 through the impressive main entrance on Broadway.  Hand-hoisted elevators carried customers from floor to floor to sample the latest in imported merchandise.

The main entrance and the three bay sections on either side (at left) engulfed the 895-899 plot.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The northward tide of commerce did not cease and in 1914 Lord & Taylor planned its next move, to Fifth Avenue and 38th Street.  The corner of the building at No. 901 Broadway was detached internally from the sections at Nos. 895-899 and 10 East 20th Street.

That the buildings were no longer associated was made visibly clear by architect John H. Duncan who gave Nos. 895-899 Broadway a new personality.  The cast iron facade was pulled off and replaced by a limestone neo-Renaissance style front.  Its dignified, balanced design of rusticated piers and reserved decoration was a stark departure from Giles's Victorian confection.

Rather than separate the windows of the third through fifth floors with pilasters or columns, Duncan floated simple capitals on flat-faced piers.   Along the frieze below the iron cornice he placed sculpted lions' heads within rondels directly above each of the rusticated four-story piers.

Calhoun, Robbins & Company leased the entire building in 1914 and occupied almost all of it.  Space was subleased to publisher Hurst & Co., which released Adventures in Toyland and A Round Robin children's books that year.

Calhoun, Robbins & Co., an importer of "fancy dry goods," had been organized in 1858.  In its January 1915 issue, Notions and Fancy Goods noted "The removal of the business of Calhoun, Robbins & Co. from 408-410 Broadway, where they have been located for the past forty-seven years, to the building formerly occupied by Lord & Taylor, at Broadway, 19th and 20th streets, marks a noteworthy epoch in New York's commercial development."

The firm owned the Lyon Brand of yarns which it produced in its mills in Pennsylvania.  But the scope of the products it sold went far beyond dry goods.   In the early 1920's they included "hair, tooth, nail and cloth brushes," whisk brooms, pocketbooks, purses, card cases, "tourist cases," beaded bags, soap boxes, thimbles, buckles, and scores of other items.

A gang of burglars had plagued the Broadway neighborhood for some time in the spring of 1922 and on May 17 they set their sights on Calhoun, Robbins & Co.  At 4:30 that afternoon four crooks entered No. 901 (the surviving corner of the old Lord & Taylor building) and hid.  When the employees had all gone home, they went to work breaking through a fifth story wall.

Their plan was upset by an informant.  The New-York Tribune reported "Captain Stapleton of the loft squad received a tip that the safe of the dry goods concern of Calhoun, Robbin & Co., at 895 Broadway, was to be blown in search of a pay roll of $120,000."  According to the tipster, "The plan of the yeggmen was to make a hole in a wall leading from an adjoining building."

An army of police--150 patrolmen and 100 detectives--surrounded the block.  Squads of men with rifles were stationed on the roofs of several buildings.  Once the area was secured, "detectives swarmed into the buildings, most of which are occupied by silk mercers and manufacturers of embroideries."

Investigators with flashlights searched "every nook and corner" of more than a dozen buildings.  And then, on the fifth floor of No. 901, "they found a complete yeggmen's outfit, including drills, jimmies, hammers, wrenches, mallets, four pairs of gloves, soap, and a half stick of dynamite, but no burglars."  A hole had been broken through to Calhoun, Robbins & Co.

When they heard the detectives coming up the stairs, the burglars fled to the roof.  A ten-hour search ended at daybreak with all four being captured, one of them having been shot three times.

Calhoun, Robbins & Co. remained in the building until 1928.  Afterwards it was converted for light manufacturing purposes.  In the 1960's the Grossman Stamp Company, manufacturers of collectors' albums and publishers of stamp-related books and brochures, was in the building.  Sussex Clothes, makers of private label ready-to-wear clothing for upscale retailers like Bergdorf-Goodman, Bloomingdales, and Neiman-Marcus, operated from the address in the 1970's.

In 1984 clothing manufacturer Saint Laurie, Ltd. purchased the building for $2 million for its manufacturing space and headquarters after having been at No. 84 Fifth Avenue for half a century.  

An interior renovation costing between $2- and $3 million was initiated by Beyer Blinder Belle, well-known for its work on vintage structures.  Architect Frederick Bland told The New York Times journalist Shawn G. Kennedy on April 11 "When completed, the layout will reflect the way commercial space was used when buildings like 895 Broadway were built, with retail and manufacturing space sharing the same building."  When Saint Laurie, Ltd. moved in, its staff included nearly 250 garment workers like cutters, sewers and finishers.  

On July 4, 1993 The New York Times announced the Equinox fitness center "just signed a lease for 26,000 square feet in the heart of the Flat-iron district at 897 Broadway, a space now occupied by the wholesale clothing company Saint Laurie."  The lower three floors were converted to the Equinox facilities with offices on the upper floors.  

Above the entrance the name "Equinox Building" has been applied.
Although the limestone is a bit grimy, above the ground level the building looks much as it did when the cast iron Victorian department store received its 1914 transformation.

photographs by the author

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Dr. F. W. Lilienthal House - 408 West 154th Street

Despite his decidedly French-sounding name, Henri Fouchaux was American, born in Coytesville, New Jersey in 1856.  By the turn of the century he was the most prolific architect in Washington Heights and Harlem, responsible for scores of homes and business buildings.

Among them were the eight upscale residences he designed for developer William H. Lake in 1898--three on West 154th Street and two around the corner on St. Nicholas Avenue.  His plans, filed in August that year, estimated the cost of the 20-foot wide homes at $15,000 each; or around $468,000 today.

Completed the following year, Fouchaux had turned to the popular Beaux Arts style for the project.  The three 154th Street homes were designed in an A-B-A configuration.  The two matching end houses were a restrained example of the often flamboyant style.  Like its identical twin, No. 408 was three stories tall above an English basement, it was clad in limestone and featured an angled bay at the second floor, supported by ornate stone brackets.

Fouchaux stepped away from the French motif by embellishing the newels of the dog-legged stoop and the spandrel panels of the second floor bay with Renaissance-inspired carvings.  Above the understated third floor was a bracketed pressed metal cornice.

No. 408 is at the left.  The steep incline of West 154th Street necessitated a higher stoop than that of its twin at No. 412.
In 1900 Lake sold all eight of the completed houses to Charles Hibbard.   The ambitious real estate operator seems to have been overly-optimistic, for he lost six of the houses in foreclosure in 1902.   At the time of the auction on March 29 he owed the bank $16,690 and back taxes of $600--or about $550,000 today.

At the time Dr. F. W. Lilienthal and his wife, Auguste, were well-known among the German community.  He emigrated from Germany in 1861 and was one of the founders of the German Dispensary that served the often impoverished population of the East Village, known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany.  But the couple was also known for their fearless support of the working class Germans and Dr. Lilienthal was described by The New York Times later as "one of the pioneers of the Socialist Party in this city."

The devastating economic depression known as Financial Panic of 1873 lasted for several years.  It put thousands of New Yorkers out of work, including the tenement dwellers in the German district.  With no civic funded relief available, the people grew desperate.  Committees and organizations were formed to meet with the city government in hopes to organize public works programs to provide jobs.  But they were rebuffed.

On January 13, 1874 about 7,000 unemployed workers gathered in Tompkins Square Park.  A force of about 1,600 police officers entered the park wielding clubs to disperse the crowd.  When the workers fought back, mounted police charged the crowd.  A witness, Samuel Gompers described them "riding them down and attacking men, women and children without discrimination.  It was an orgy of brutality."

Two weeks later, on January 30, what The New York Herald described as a "German mass meeting" was held at Cooper Square.  The newspaper reported "the approaches to the Great Hall were blocked by a motley crown of Germans."

Presiding over the meeting and giving the first speech to the "boisterous and demonstrative audience" was the outraged Dr. Lilienthal.   He stressed the importance of protecting "the rights of citizens in this crisis" and to "protest against this flagrant violation of the right of free assemblage."

Among the strong male voices that night was one that was perhaps unexpected by the press covering the event.  Auguste Lilienthal stepped to the dais as one of the last speakers.  The Herald described her as "a tall, stout lady."  Her impassioned speech accused the police of a "felonious outrage perpetrated upon working-men in Tompkins Square."  She said they had robbed the people of the right of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution.  "Would the police have disturbed Messrs. Astor, Stewart, Vanderbilt, &c., in a meeting of theirs?  Oh, no, they would have taken great care to secure them a peaceable and quiet gathering."

"Who were the men clubbed in Tompkins Square?" she asked.  "They were the real citizens, the real workers, the real taxpayers."  Auguste's speech was repeatedly met with a chorus of "Bravos!"

Dr. Lilienthal's practice provided him the income to afford his upscale home in what had become a stylish suburban neighborhood.  After Charles S. Hibbard sold No. 408 in 1901 it became home to the Lilienthals.  The couple maintained a country estate in the Catskills near Tannersville, New York, as well.

Auguste was helped by a small staff of domestic servants.  An advertisement in The New York Herald read, "Two German girls, a cook and a chambermaid by small family in private home.  Two sisters or mother and daughter preferred."  Auguste's preference was most likely well-founded.  A family member, especially a mother, might keep the other from dawdling.

She needed domestic help because she was no mere housewife.  Auguste was the editor of the woman's section of the Sunday magazine of The New York Volkszeitung.  (The Lilienthal's adult daughter, Meta L. Stern, incidentally, was a popular German-language author who wrote under the pseudonym of Hebe.)

Dr. Lilienthal's booming practice may have been boosted by his generous dispensing of medications.  Medical Leaves: A Review of the Jewish Medical World later commented, "A good physician with a great following was Dr. F. W. Lilienthal.  Patients were obliged to wait in line for hours at his office.  Dr. Lilienthal usually prescribed pills in large quantities; one hundred pills was his usual prescription."

The Lilienthals were at their summer estate on July 28, 1910 when the 77-year-old doctor died.  The New York Times, while noting that he was "one of the leading German physicians" in the city, focused on his political and social stances.  "He was also a founder of the Free Thinkers' Society, and a member of the various organizations which joined to form the present Socialist Party in this country.  He was a member of the International Socialist Union."

Within the year Lilienthal's estate sold No. 408 to Martin E. Roache.  He was the vice-president and the second-largest stockholder in James Butler, Inc., grocers.  The firm, which was started by James Butler, now operated 171 retail grocery stores in connection with its wholesale business.

The Roache family leased the house to Harry C. Hequembourg, purchasing agent for the American Locomotive Company in 1917; and in 1919 sold it.  By now the neighborhood had noticeably changed.  Subway service reached the area in 1904, making it more accessible to middle class New Yorkers.  Apartment buildings began sprouting along the avenues and the exclusivity of the neighborhood disappeared.

By the Depression years 408 West 154th Street was being operated as a rooming house.  At least one tenant, William J. Garvey, was financially comfortable enough to own an automobile.  On January 30, 1930 he was driving along South Broadway in Yonkers when a 19-year-old boy, Henry Offerman, stepped in the path of his car.   Garvey was unable to react and he hit Offerman, injuring the teen enough to require his treatment at St. Joseph's Hospital.  Garvey was held innocent of any negligence.

Mrs. Odette Kelly took the building manager to court in 1935, claiming he was pocketing her rent money.  On November 15, according to The New York Age, she complained that she had given Samuel J. Cottman (a "well-known realtor") her $67.50 rent on October 2.  She was later informed by the building's owner, Emanuel & Shure, that she was behind in her rent.  When she confronted Cottman he "kept making excuses to her about the money," she said.

The New York Age reported "Cottman was hauled into Heights Court."  The hearing was held on November 22 where Cottman's defense convinced the judge of his innocence.  "The realtor told the court that he had held the money up at the request of the woman's husband," reported The New York Age.  "The court agreed with him...and dismissed the charge."

By the last decade of the 20th century the neighborhood around No. 408 had revived.  Today there are four apartments in the Lilienthal house; but from the outside little has changed after more than 110 years.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Cornelius H. Hedden House - 28 Bethune Street

The hefty entablature above the delicate doorway was added later in the 19th century.
In the early 1840's construction projects were underway up and down Bethune Street in Greenwich Village.  In 1844 developers began two side-by-side groups of three Greek Revival style houses each, among which was No. 28.  Like the other five, it was completed in 1845 and featured a brownstone-clad basement and stone stoop.  Three floors of orange brick were trimmed in brownstone.  Iron stoop railings gently encircled the thin newels, and matching fencing protected the areaway.

By at least 1861 Cornelius Howard Hedden and his wife, the former Martha Washington Pearse, occupied No. 28.  The couple had been married in 1852.  Hedden made his living as a clerk.  In July that year the couple had a son, Walter.  Tragically, just over three months later the infant's funeral was held in the house, on November 21.

The Heddens would have eleven more children--nine sons and two daughters--several of whom perished while still young.  On November 5, 1881, for instance, the New York Herald reported on the death of 20-year old Frank, "the second son," of the couple.  And on July 27, 1896 their youngest son, Harry, died at the age of 24.  All of the funerals were held in the parlor of the Bethune Street house.

Harry's older brother, Charles, had been a bookkeeper; but he made a decided career change that year, joining the New York City Police Department.  Charles invested in real estate, as well.  By the turn of the century he owned three houses on Bethune Street, Nos. 40, 42 and 44.

On January 6, 1902 Edward Harold Heddon and his wife, who lived on Madison Avenue, hosted a touching fiftieth anniversary party for his parents.  It started with a family dinner.  The surviving children--Edward, Florence, Charles, George and William--were there with their spouses and the six grandchildren.  Following dinner guests arrived, some from distant points.  They included two members of the wedding party ( the best man and a bridesmaid), and numerous wedding guests.

The New York Herald remarked that "Mr. and Mrs. Hedden, the former being in his seventy-fifth year and his wife in her seventieth year, enjoy perfect health.  Mr. Hedden in still in active business in this city."

Nevertheless, the home which they shared for nearly half a century was placed on the market the following year in April.  Cornelius would die in 1915 and Martha on June 5, 1917.

No. 28 was purchased by Joseph and Annie L. Mattison.  The couple worked out an arrangement with Daniel C. Green, who lived in Corona, Queens, in 1907.  According to The Evening World, Green, who was 55-years old, had inherited "a considerable estate on Long Island and in this city," upon the death of his brother.  Because settling the estate meant frequent trips into the city, he rented a room on the top floor from the Mattisons to lessen the commuting.

But on the morning of February 14, 1908 Green was found dead in his bed, the room filled with lighting gas.  The Evening World explained "His death was due to the common accident of turning off the gas and turning it on again inadvertently."

Following Joseph's death Annie Mattison sold No. 28 in April 1920 to Anastasia Addish.  Anastasia, who had come to New York from Ireland on the steamship Louisville in the 1890's, rented extra rooms in the house.

Two years before the purchase Anastasia had noticed two sailors on shore leave.  She approached them and said that she had a son in the military.  The sailors told her they were from the U.S.S. Louisville, which had been converted to a wartime transport vessel.  It was the same ship that had brought her to America.

Anastasia invited the sailors to dinner and to meet her sister, who accompanied her on the voyage.  They did and it was then that one of them, Chester Hadsell of Craig, Colorado, caught the eye of Anastasia's daughter, Jane.  Years later the Craig Empire wrote "the acquaintanceship of the New York girl and the Craig boy grew into friendship and then to love."

For over a year Jane and Chester would see one another when the Louisville arrived in New York to take more France-bound troops.  Then the Armistice came and the trips would necessarily come to an end.  According to the newspaper "On the way across the Atlantic Chet spent his time rehearsing the proposal he was going to make when he again reached 'the sidewalks of New York.'"  But the ship was redirected to Norfolk before reaching New York.  The men were then sent to Dallas for discharge.

The couple wrote back and forth for ten years.  In the meantime Jane acquired a job as secretary to the designing engineer of the City Water Department.  She received a phone call in October 1928 with a proposal of marriage.

Although Hadsell wanted to move Jane to Colorado, she was adamant that they live in New York City, since she was making far more money than he could immediately earn.  "I finally yielded to her wishes and reached New York on December 23rd, 1928," he later explained in an affidavit.

Anastasia's business sense outweighed her maternal obligations and she rented "the furnished front room on the second floor" of No. 28 Bethune Street to the newlyweds at $20 per week (about $293 today).  And Chester had a rocky start in the new city.

He gave Jane all his savings for the room and board and immediately began looking for a job.  It took ten days to find one, and that paid only $22 a week.   And the country boy was shocked at the lifestyle of his city wife.  He said "Her parents and other members of her immediate family, with their friends, liked to have parties downstairs; there was considerable drinking, and the language frequently used jarred me, for I do not drink nor use profane language."  

Jane sided with her family, who derided Chester for staying in their room while the gatherings took place.  On March 30, 1929, just three months after their marriage, the breaking point came when Chester told Jane he no longer wanted to remain in the house.

On the morning of April 2 Jane was no where to be found.  Anastasia walked into their room and told Chester "Get the hell out, both of you and stay out."  Chester did, but Jane did not.  Irate that he had caused a rift, she filed for divorce.

Albert Jennings was a roomer in the house on May 28, 1939 when he went on a fishing party on the Bilot, a 32-foot cabin cruiser.  He was a member of the social club the "Over Fire Boys," and the trip had been planned for weeks.  But not ten minutes after leaving the East 78th Street pier, the vessel overturned, plunging the 24 passengers and crew of four into the East River.  The tide at the time was "racing," according to newspapers.  

Nearby vessels rushed to rescue the victims.  The following morning The New York Times reported "One body was recovered and two men were still missing last night."  The dead man was 42-year old Albert Jennings.

No. 28 continued to be operated as a rooming house until 1956 when it was converted to one apartment on each floor.  A subsequent renovation in 1971 resulted in one apartment in the basement, one on the first floor, and a duplex above.  

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Emery Roth & Sons' 1939 Normandy Apartments - 140 Riverside Drive

photo courtesy of LandMark West!

For thirty years beginning in 1903 Emery Roth designed apartment buildings throughout Manhattan embellished with Renaissance and even Art Nouveau decoration.  His first major work, the 1903 Belleclaire Hotel on Broadway at 77th Street was a delightfully fussy confection of shapes and materials that dripped with carved festoons and sculptured faces.  But changing times bring changing tastes, and Roth would adapt.

On August 26, 1938 The New York Sun reported that the 140 Riverside Drive, Inc., of which Roth was first vice-president, intended to replace the eight mansions along the block front of Riverside Drive between 86th and 87th Streets with an 18-story and penthouse apartment building.  Emery Roth & Sons had filed the plans the day before, placing construction costs at $1.45 million (more in the neighborhood of $26.3 million today).

The plans called for 16 suites and doctors' offices on the ground floor, 15 apartments each on the second through ninth floors, 13 each on the tenth through fifteenth, and 11 each on the upper three floors.  "On the penthouse floors there will be nine suites, some duplexed," said The Sun.

Roth still held true to Renaissance Revival, announcing that the "architectural design will be in the Italian Renaissance style of the same character as the San Remo Towers and Beresford Apartments on Central Park West."  Nevertheless, these were modern times and Roth was designing for well-to-do post-Depression apartment dwellers who expected cutting edge style. 

In the September 10, 1938 issue of The New York Sun Roth explained (perhaps defended) his design:

It will be definitely 1939.  That doesn't mean 'modernistic.'  Every building is ultra modern when erected, whether it is inspired by one of the historic periods of architecture or whether it was planned with a conscious search for originality...I am fond of so-called old Italian architecture.  If today I designed a building of old Italian architecture it would emerge nevertheless as a modern structure, always to be recognized as of 1939.

And so it was.  Roth's melded Renaissance with the streamlined Art Moderne movement with rounded corners, a dramatic concave entrance glittering with in mosaic tiles, and, instead of terra cotta decorations, simple flat surfaces.  It caused architectural critic Paul Goldberger of The New York Times to deem the design "schizophrenic" decades later on February 17, 1978.

photographs via

The Normandy Apartments were built on an H plan embracing two gardens that totaled 9,000 square feet.  The sunken lobby looked out onto one of them.  Apartments had up-to-date amenities.  Every bedroom had its own bathroom, there were numerous closets, terraces on the setbacks, and in the penthouse apartments, wood and marble fireplaces.

The Normandy Apartments filled with moneyed residents, like City Court Justice Lewis L. Kahn, who signed a lease on a seven-room apartment before the building was completed; and Dutch financier Jacques Rosenstein, who also took a seven-room apartment with three baths.   Herman Wouk moved into his apartment on December 1, 1939.  He would leave to join the U. S. Naval Reserve following the attack on Pearl Harbor two years later, years before he wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.

Atypical of the Normandy's residents were Morris Wolensky (who most often went by Wolen) and his wife, actress Marion Callahan.  A beautiful blonde, Marion had already reached her theatrical peak with her appearance in the 1934 movie Murder at the Vanities.  Morris was known among gangland figures as "Dimples."  He and his partner, Tom Cuddy, according to the rackets bureau of the District Attorney's office, were "one of the three big [gambling] outfits of the prohibition days," according to The New York Times on August 4, 1942.

Wolen had first been arrested in 1918 in East Boston for petty thievery.  While other residents of the Normandy were hosting cocktail parties and attending the theater in evening dress, Wolen was avoiding detectives.  The Times explained "The police said they wanted to 'hustle him out of town,' as part of the drive against gamblers."  Unfortunately for the detectives and for Morris "Dimples" Wolen, another gangster, Max Fox, found him first.

On August 3, 1942 The Kingston Daily Freeman reported "As they sat in shirtsleeves playing a quiet game of bridge, a big-shot Broadway betting commissioner and a little-shot crook and gambler were shot to death early today by a masked gunman who escaped."  Max Fox trailed Wolen and Robert B. Greene to the White House Bridge Association's clubrooms near Times Square, strode in and fired six direct shots into the men.  The article said the fatal wound to "Dimples" was "a bullet behind the right ear."  It noted "Wolenski, reported recently married a chorus girl, lived in Riverside Drive.

Marion Callahan was unlucky in love.  original source unknown.
It is unclear how much longer Marion Callahan remained in their Normandy apartment.  Her luck in romantic relationships did not improve, however.  On July 25, 1945 the Elmira Star-Gazette reminded its readers that "About three years ago blonde Marion Callahan, former Vanities beauty, was bereaved by the spectacular slaying of her husband, Morris Wolenski, bodyguard for the late Lepke Buchalter.  Now death has stalked a boy friend, George Lee."  Marion and Lee were together the evening before when Lee got into an altercation with a sailor in uniform.  The sailor landed a blow that knocked Lee to the pavement, fatally injuring him.

photo courtesy of LandMark West!
The financial status of the Normandy's residents was reflected in an absent minded oversight by Mrs. Joseph Marcus in 1948.  Like many socialites, she volunteered time to worthy causes--hers being the American Red Cross.  That spring she sent her uniform to be mended at a tailor, who then sent it to the Commercial Cleaners in Mount Vernon to be dry cleaned.  There a young worker, Merrill J. Marshall, stuck his hand in the pocket and pulled out a little red bag in which was a sparkling brooch.  He took it home and gave it to his girlfriend.

Before long Mrs. Marcus was in a panicked search for her $2,700 diamond brooch (around $28,700 today).  The search led to Marshall who faced a judge on April 7.  He admitted taking taking the pin, but insisted he had not realized its value.  Luckily for him, the Marcuses interceded and had managed to have the original charge of grand larceny dropped.  Instead he was found guilty of stealing the red bag, which by itself was valued at more than $950 in today's money.  Before he left the courtroom, Judge Harry Krauss advised Marshall "to buy his girlfriend's gifts in the future."

The names of the Normandy Apartments residents appeared routinely in the society pages as daughters became debutantes, children were married, and dinner parties were hosted.  Rhoda Unger's name, however, appeared in print for a far different reason.

The wife of Mel Unger, on October 17, 1966 she returned to her parked car on Third Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets to find it broken into and looted.  Among the missing items was a valise containing "valuable business papers."  She rushed to find a phone to call her husband and in the excitement forgot that not only had the meter run out, but it was now past 4:00 making her parking spot in a no-standing zone.

When she returned her car was already hooked up to a tow truck.  As she later described it, "I got mad."  Indeed, she was so mad that she jumped upon the hood of her car and refused to dismount.   Soon there were policemen and a crowd of onlookers, many of them rooting "Stay there...don't get off...don't give up."  Their chants were countered by police, one of whom pleaded, "Come on, lady.  We won't tow the car if you'll come to the station house."

Rhoda Unger was steadfast.  She finally exhausted the patience of Police Lieutenant Thomas Long, who declared "This has gone far enough."  The protesting Rhoda was physically removed and hauled away in a patrol wagon while the crowd cheered "Rah, rah for Rhoda!"  Her maddening adventure cost her a $25 towing charge, $5 a day for tow pound fees, and $10 for parking in a prohibited zone.  

Among the moneyed residents at the time were Herman Steinlauf and his wife, the former Hannah Kerness.  Steinlauf had opened a record shop on Nassau Street in 1921.  Three years later he changed course, turning to sporting goods.  Now, Herman's World of Sporting Goods was said to be the largest sporting goods chain in the world.

The hands-on businessman told a reporter "Mostly I like to work around the store like anyone else, in my shirtsleeves.  That way, you see, I don't look any different from anyone else.  Even the people who come in to see me, they can't spot me so easily.  That's okay with me--they might want discounts or some other privileges."

Hannah Steinlauf died in May 1970.  Within the year Herman sold the chain to W. R. Grace & Co., remaining as chairman.  He stayed on in the Normandy apartment until his death in January 1974.

Another noteworthy resident was attorney Mathilda Miller Cuneo, who lived on the second floor.  She was living here in November 1975 when she was honored for her "outstanding contributions and involvement with her profession" by the New York League of Business and Professional Women.  Eleven years later a legal case would strike very close to home.

On November 14, 1985 The New York Times entitled an article "A New Battle of Normandy Raging on Upper West Side."  It all had to do with windows.

Emery Roth had incorporated casement windows into his design.  In 1979 the Normandy Apartments became a cooperative and, according to the residents' attorney David Warmflash, "many windows leak water and air."  Mathila Miller Cuneo sat on the building's board and in its September
meeting a vote was held to replace all the windows with "new, double-paned windows, as well as air-conditioners that go through the wall of the Normandy."  Of the seven members, Cuneo cast the only negative vote.

Unwilling to give up, she rallied sixteen residents to write letters to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Hers warned of "an urgent and threatening situation."  She told Joyce Purnick of The New York Times that replacing the windows "would have absolutely ruined the integrity of the design of the building, which is the finest example of Art Moderne in the City of New York."

The Landmarks Preservation Commission reacted by holding a hearing on November 12 to consider landmark status.  Remarkably, the Normandy Apartments was designed a landmark on the same day, putting a halt on what might have resulted in a hodge-podge of fenestration.

photo courtesy of LandMark West!
In its subsequent designation report, the LPC called the Normandy "one of the great monuments of Riverside Drive" and said it "symbolized the grand era of 20th century urbanism."